How the Swartland champions sustainable wine

Written by Clifford Roberts; Photograph Johan Viljoen

“Sustainability sits at the core of everything we do.” So begins the preamble to the theme of this year’s Cape Wine show, a major industry event held every four years. As participants, Swartland producers rank among those in which this philosophy is most ingrained.

Sustainability was the theme of this year’s very successful Cape Wine event, which took place in the Cape Town ICC from 5-7 October 2022.

A region of unique natural beauty from mountain ranges to seascapes, the Swartland may seem in no need of dedicated environmental awareness. The reality is the complete opposite. In addition to participating in sustainability-related, industry-wide initiatives such as the Wine & Agricultural Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) and the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW), many smaller, community orientated initiatives are underway.

Dryland viticulture and the planting of climate-appropriate cultivars are perhaps some of the more obvious, age-old practices embraced by Swartland farmers. So too, is the legacy of its old vineyards.

There are, however, many practices at local wineries that extend beyond the immediate business of wine. Detailing everyone would take up considerable time and space. Below are, however, a few key examples.

Sharing prosperity

A cornerstone of sustainability deals with the prosperity of a community and when the global pandemic hit, rural farming communities were struck among the hardest.

Lammershoek was sparked to action, establishing a large vegetable garden as a community project.  Not only did it supply an essential food source, but it also helped keep everyone busy and served as a valuable tool to teach about nutrition. Post-Covid, the garden continues to thrive.

Jonathan Hendriks keeps a close eye on the Lammershoek vegetable garden

Great Heart is the staff empowerment project of Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines that seeks to improve the livelihoods of employees and their families. A portion of all sales under this label, which comprises four wines, go directly to them.

The wine community was also served with the establishment in 2017 of the Riebeek Valley Wine Co. Setting out on a bold new course, the collaboration of some 22 local family farms, declared that its sustainability relied on broader collaboration with individual Swartland producers. Making a small winery adjoining its main facilities available to boutique producers, it empowers budding enterprises by not only giving access to top-end equipment but also markets for their wine.

Rashaad George at work in The Playroom at the Riebeek Valley Wine Company

A sunny disposition

Large scale use of solar energy has been implemented by local wineries, among them Pulpit Rock.

This state-of-the-art cellar has an overall production capacity of 5 000 tons, with two barrel-maturation cellars, whose power use is supplemented by roof-mounted panels.

Pulpit Rock harvesting the sun for sustainable energy

Another user of this kind of technology is Leeuwenkuil. When it established its Swartland operations in 2019, the design of its facilities was focused on the environment. “[Owner Willie Dreyer]’s philosophy is that he merely borrows the land from his children and his biological-sustainable approach in the vineyards is mirrored by the winery design,” says a report on the developments. “It allows for a low water and electricity demand, while solar power covers most of the electricity needs during sunny days.”

Going green

The principle of sustainability is broad, extending to the natural environment itself, of course. Swartland champions in this field are numerous.

Org de Rac was one of the first wine farms in South Africa committed to 100% certified organic wine farming. The reasoning was that “the best, healthiest grapes make the finest wines”.

The organic vineyards of Org de Rac, off the N7, near Piketberg.

“And if you want healthy grapes expressing the characteristics of each variety, creating as natural an environment as possible for the cultivation of vineyards is the best way to ensure quality grapes for the making of premium wines,” the winery declares on its website.

As such, the farm embraces a variety of natural agricultural practices including promoting the presence of ladybirds and earthworms.

Dragonridge is another organic wine farm, located in the Paardeberg district. In addition to its various environmentally friendly vineyard practices, it also promotes natural diversity through its Simon-Simons Contract Nature Reserve under the auspices of CapeNature.

The entrance to the Simon-Simons Nature Reserve at Fynbos Estate, home of Dragonridge Wines.

Likewise, Kloovenburg in Riebeek Kasteel set one-third of its 300ha land holdings aside for conservation. It is one of the World Wildlife Fund For Nature (WWF)’s Conservation Champions. Kloovenburg employs practices such as using cover crops, mulching, no tillage and biological pest control. It also produces its own compost as a way of continuously improving soil health.

Authentic wine

Producing wine that aligns with and indeed, reflects, the natural environment is a pursuit of many local producers.

The Swartland Independent Producers organisation requires members to produce wines “naturally”. It includes in its list of core values that wines should see a minimum of manipulation in both vineyard and cellar “so that a Swartland Independent wine has no inoculated yeast, or added yeast supplement; will not be acidified; has no added tannin; will not be chemically fined; and, will not undergo any technological process (reverse osmosis) which will alter the constitution of the wine.”

Each SIP member embraces the process. Among them, are wineries such as Hughes Family Wines, which produces Nativo, and Jurgen Gouws’s Intellego. The former’s farm is certified organic and farmed biodynamically, sports an innovative and eco-friendly “rammed earth” tasting room, and an equally sustainable, sub-surface winery. The latter, desires wines that express themselves at the same time as providing a chance to “contribute to a healthier environment”.

The underground cellar at The Hughes Family Wines, just north of Malmesbury.

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